It was October 1965. The war with India had been and gone. I was in class eight at St Anthony’s School in Lahore when one day, a whisper screamed through the school halls: ‘Cecil Chaudhry!’ Classes were let out and we all lined up to shake hands with our hero from the Pakistan Air Force. He was ours because he, too, had passed through the same corridors where we ran screaming then.
That was the first time I ever saw this truly wonderful man. To me, with stars in my eyes, he seemed to be the tallest man on earth with a luxurious moustache, thick brushed back hair and what I was later to know as an ‘aquiline face’. I shook the hand of the man who had helped defend Pakistan.
In 1974, as a lieutenant in what was Anti-Aircraft Artillery (now Air Defence), I was the liaison officer from my regiment at the Shorkot air base. Seeing the long and empty runway, it got into my silly head that I ought to try how fast my Dodge three-quarter-ton truck, Korean War vintage, could go.
And so, I went tearing down the runway, accelerator flat out. Not satisfied, I turned around at the far end and came bowling down again. I was on the third lap when the sirens came: behind me were two Air Provost jeeps. I was pulled over and the sergeant came up to say the base commander would like to see me.
Even as a mindless lieutenant I knew I was in trouble when they drove me away with one jeep leading and one behind my Dodge. As if I was going to escape leaving my radio crew behind! As we walked into the veranda, I noticed the name outside the door: Group Captain Cecil Chaudhry. My worries dissipated.
The door was opened for me and I marched in, halted smartly and snapped a nifty salute. The base commander sat erect with his peak cap on, grim set to the jaw, hands folded neatly on the desk in front and eagle eyes boring into me like a pair of gimlets. He was all set to blast me to the far side of hell. But before he could begin, in proper military academy fashion I said: “I am also from St Anthony’s, sir!”
The base commander let out a long, slow breath and his eyes softened. He looked at me a moment and then said, in Urdu: “Oye! Tum pagal ho gai ho?” He wanted to know what I thought I was doing. I told him and I suspect he suppressed a chuckle –– for those were still days when a subaltern was expected to indulge in absurdities.
He sat me down and asked about my graduating year and my teachers. I reminded him of his visit to the school. He then told me that I had held up three fighters from landing. After wagging an admonishing finger at me, Cecil said: “you try it again, and I’ll have you arrested.” That was that.
Two decades went by before we met again. He vaguely remembered the Shorkot incident as ‘some lieutenant’s stupidity’. I said I was the culprit and he thumped me on the back and laughed. Thereafter, we met repeatedly for he was then the principal of St Anthony’s School and a committed human rights activist.
As things got progressively worse for the minorities of Pakistan, I heard Cecil speak on dozens of different occasions. His passion never failed to move me. What amazed me was that though there was so much ardour, there was never anger, but always equanimity.
When the patriotism of non-Muslim Pakistanis came openly under question, Cecil once said: “I flew for Pakistan in two wars; at times with peril to my own life. And now, my patriotism is being doubted.” His grief overwhelmed me for it was unfeigned.
A year ago, Cecil was diagnosed with lung cancer. I never saw him again. Not even after the funeral service. I simply lacked the courage to do it. In my mind’s eye, Cecil Chaudhry will always be as he was in the full glory of life. Rest in eternal peace, my friend. Those who you left behind are the poorer without you.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 21st, 2012.
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adnak my brother, Islam did not come just for Muslims. It came for the entire mankind. It creates a perfect system. Not a perfect system for Muslims. Cecil Chaudhry's greatness lay in recognizing and accepting that essential fact. Anyways, this board is paying respect to a soldier of Pakistan. So let's discuss whatever doubts you may have elsewhere. Thank you.
"Islamic system is great for Muslims, but it is even better for non-Muslims"
What an illusion of highest grade. Do Muslims need to decide a system for Non-Muslims as well?
I wonder why then Muslims and non-Muslims alike are trying to run away from Islamic Republic towards non-Muslim states.
Salman, I was then in class 5 in St. Anthony's and also saw him. After the war, the Principal Bro Kelly had arranged visits of war heroes. I remember three came in succession. Gen then Col Iftikhar Janjua Shaeed (Roll of honour) Capt Shabbir Sharif SJ (Roll of honour) and later Nishan e Haider and Cecil Ch.Motivated, I was to later join army in 1972.
Thank you, Sir, for protecting and defending the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Islamic system is great for Muslims, but it is even better for non-Muslims. What better proof than this!
If Bhutto (B) didn't have a monopoly on roads, airports and hospitals perhaps we could spare something for this quiet, unassuming national hero.
Thank you, sir, for your fearless loyalty in protecting the motherland. Though you are gone, you will never be forgotten.
And to the idiot who posted above saying that there are tens of thousands of Toms and Harrys, I only wish that were true. Honour your heroes, you fool, or at the least, do not cast aspersions on their fealty; history forgets the nations which forget their protectors.
what a shme we dont have schools on our saints name what a shame. no wonder thses writer s dont know about islamic history.
@Prabhjyot Singh Madan: Mr.Madan you can write your Eulogy, but do not rubbish about other things which have no link with this Soldier of the soil.
Nice article but this bit eluded me:
"A year ago, Cecil was diagnosed with lung cancer. I never saw him again. Not even after the funeral service."
@rashid khan: Well said. I am from cross border but still salute brave son of soil no matter where they are from. Singh
Rest in peace, Cecil.
@gujranwala987 ' there are tens of thousands like him in pakistan, if you start caring about every tom and harry then where would you stop'. Wouldn't Pakistan be a better place if there were tens of thousands like him? As for caring for them- well! we all know what happens to nations that fail to recognise their true heroes - we all know where they head.
@Lt Col Imtiaz Alam (retd) & Umer
You'll are both right..... he was not a national hero because there is no road named after him, though undeniably he was a good soldier who did his duty for country bravely and boldly. Imtiaz sb ever come across the term ‘double standard’? I'll refresh your knowledge of 65 and 71wars to get a better idea. In 65, the PAF awarded 35 SJs, these included five Christian recipients their collective haul amounted to a little over 14 per cent of the total SJs the force awarded. In 71 war, of the approximate 35 SJs awarded by PAF, two were awarded to Christian pilots, both posthumous. At a safe guess, Christian pilots were awarded 10 per cent of the total SJs awarded in the two wars, including an SJ bar. The recipient of the SJ bar was Mervyn Middlecote, I sure you’ve never heard of officer or ever traversed a road named after him either because he was also a good soldier, like the others, and was doing his duty bravely and boldly? And of course a road named after any of these individuals would not go well in the state of Pakistan. Do take time to reflect on the term ‘double standard’. Did you ever wonder why the PAF honoured Cecil who retired more than fifteen years ago and four Air Chiefs, including the serving one, took time to pay respects to him. Try and figure out why he was larger than the rank he retired in.
I dont know but have no feeling for this guy, there are tens of thousands like him in pakistan, if you start caring about every tom and harry then where would you stop.
How is Pakistan going to dogs with every passing day.Cannot imagine such a patriot been ill treated just because he was a Christian.
Hindu minorities who were forced out of Pakistan are doing very well IN India n so are the muslims who opted for India.Muhajirs who volunteered for Pakistan are in a dogs house if they had not migrated to west or middle east.
What a shame.
Uza .... Thanks
@Lt Col Imtiaz Alam(retd):
Where is that long list of non-controversial heroes? Can we see? Good excuse to not name anything in honour of a Christian though.
Very touching..and very well-written, Salman Uncle
There is no end to the long list of National Heroes. We will fall short of Roads & Chowks. Lets not get into this tirade. He was a good soldier who did his Duty towards his Country bravely & boldly.
I also met Cecil in St. Anthony my old school whereas my graduating class was from 1976. He was a man's man, although retired we spoke of our common love for flying, and he of his hope to build the school the best in the world. The man was the salt of the earth, and was as easy with kids who lined up to say hello to him, as were adults like me, returning for lost memories of an era gone. I was hoping to get information about our former brothers, Ford, Breen and Golden. Though did find that Golden had passed away. God bless Cecil and May he rest in peace.
If he is really a national hero show me a road or a public building named after him. He is a national hero only on ET pages.
1960's was an era of gentlemen and religious indoctrination was in a neotal stage.The generation of that era are dying and getting replaced by the zia ul haq era , extremist curriculum educated bigots now and thereafter. This is what happens when secularism is not there and religion is fed in all sphere of life where it becomes a dogma and rationalism and tolerance in society is compromised. Even if Pakistan tries to undo all this now, the results were be shown only when the present school goers get a lesson in equality of humanity and love for all and bring it to their society by their behavior in ......hmmmm....10 to 15 years. Right now, with the current hatred spreading curriculum, jihad is life. Remember, Cecil was a educated product of a different era with good honest history curriculum.Rest in peace, Cecil sir. Sat Sri akal
You shall be greatly missed. May you rest in eternal peace.
One of his son was my classmate at FC College. It was way back in 1991-2. I knew his father's achievment. I also got the opportunity to meet Sq. Leader M M Alam since he once paid a visit to our Islamabad home at the request of my father who was a radio professional.
Sir, these are nice words for someone who is no more-----I wonder, why didn't you say such nice things when the man was still around and disppointed by our questioning his loyalty and his patriotism---why didn't you? Can we show now, our love, admiration and gratitude to this great son of Pakistan, can we now come together and stand in solidarity with those of our fellow Pakistanis who are in minority not because their love for our country is less or inferior but because they have take a different path to reach God than we did and there's nothing wrong or bad or inferior in chosing what one consider the right path. Difference in religious belief and practice does not make one lessor Pakistani than us the majority here. Those of who can think must show guts and come forward and stand with the minorities in Pakistan, this is how we can show our love and admiration and gratitude to Cecil Chaudhry, if we really care about his services for his and our mother land.
They don't come any better than CH! RIP, we are proud of you and love you.
May his soul rest in peace. Goodbye great patriot CC.
well written sir.
St. Anthony's High School was awesome, not because the author and I went there, it was Cecil Chaudhry, the Principal at our time. Every morning used to start with his manly 'Fauji' voice saying "Good Morning Staff and students" loud in the assembly after the national anthem which used to wake us up. I am fortunate to know him beyond that role as i also attended a couple of seminars on Minority rights where he spoke, he was truly a man with great ideas, i remember he was very vocal about the separate electorate thing made by Zia-ul-Haq. Despite being a great political activist he was very professional at school, he never used that platform for spreading his political ideas(Except for a few non-academic meetings) which he could have easily done rather he discouraged discussions on religion and politics in school. It was really a great loss for us, the Anthonions and for the whole nation. May his soul rest in peace. -One of his pupils, St. Anthony's High School. Batch:2006
Great Piece. “I flew for Pakistan in two wars; at times with peril to my own life. And now, my patriotism is being doubted.” moved me to tears. I am a devout muslim, but the Islam I know would never allow what the extremists of today are doing to the minorities as well as their fellow muslims. We need great people like Cecil. RIP Cec.
Dear God,please take good care of our CC..after all, he was one of the defenders of "fort of islam" :)
When he was Principal of a prestigious school, did he not question the divisive material that was being fed to young minds? Pakistan's descent into chaos is the result of what civil society was intended to become after such indoctrination - when even people like Cecil Chaudhry have largely been silent spectators.